Take Action Against Wilderness in Name Only!

From Wilderness Watch, February 26, 2020

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have introduced the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act
 (S. 2828). Unfortunately, S. 2828’s special provisions are a severe compromise for the 30 Wildernesses the bill designates in southeastern Oregon, essentially creating what’s referred to as WINO—”Wilderness in name only.”

Please urge your senators to reject the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act (S. 2828).

While we’ve seen some of the bill’s harmful provisions before, others are entirely novel and would be precedent-setting in their ability to lower the bar of wilderness protections.

These new bad provisions include:

  • Invasive Species Management and Related Activities. This provision throws out the Wilderness Act’s basic tenet of preserving an “untrammeled” Wilderness by allowing endless vegetation manipulation including the introduction of non-native species, the use of motorized and mechanized equipment (e.g. bulldozers for chaining junipers), chemical treatments, and other changes to habitat generally prohibited in Wilderness.
  • Livestock Grazing. S. 2828 promotes livestock grazing as the solution to, rather than a major cause of, the degraded condition of these lands. The bill sets up “flexible” management that could allow ranchers, rather than public lands managers, to determine both stock numbers and seasonal use. Worse, the bill allows for vehicle use, road building, bulldozing stock tanks, and other activities otherwise prohibited in Wilderness in order to maintain existing structures and installations for livestock grazing.
  • Fire, Insects, and Disease. The bill allows the use of bulldozers and other motorized and mechanized equipment for pre-fire suppression activities in Wilderness, such as building fire roads and fuel breaks, despite their dubious effectiveness in preventing and stopping fires, and the harm such activities cause to Wilderness.

The bill also eliminates the requirement for site-specific environmental analysis, which would exclude public input on agency decisions affecting Wilderness. Instead the bill requires a single programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) every 10 years, which won’t analyze specific projects that could harm Wilderness.

Finally, S. 2828 releases 209,521 acres of Wilderness Study Areas and another 856,199 acres of wilderness-quality lands, paving the way for roads, fossil fuel development, and motors, rather than protecting these wild public lands.

The provisions of S. 2828 are a monumental departure from the Wilderness Act and any previous wilderness legislation, and would significantly weaken wilderness protections. S. 2828 would not only undermine the Wildernesses it designates, but its provisions would likely be replicated in future wilderness bills as well, perpetuating more “wilderness in name only,” rather than the true protection all Wilderness deserves as mandated by the Wilderness Act.

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